Springtime Waits for No One

Notes from my talk for UUFM on 12 April 2020

Last month was the Spring Equinox, a holiday called Ostara by Wiccans. Next month comes Beltane, halfway thru Spring season.

At Ostara the Sun rises directly in the East, days and nights are equal in hours. Here in the American Southeast, trees and flowers were leafing out. Up North, people are still waiting for that to happen. Anticipation!

Ostara is a time to start work. You made plans at Imbolc, right? Get those out and review! What were you dreaming of back in the dead of Winter?

I started work in my garden. Pulling early weeds, cleaning up dead plant stems, building what is needed or re-building what has broken. I found that my strawberry ziggurat had partly washed out, so I dug and poured in dirt from other parts of my garden…after first extracting a toad. I hope it found other shelter.

All those dreams of yours are YOURS. Remember that – you are responsible for bringing them into reality. How will you express yourself, improve yourself?

Next month begins with a huge fire festival, Beltane! Halfway thru the Spring season when life is bursting out of the ground. Beltane begins the brightest part of the year, when days are long and nights short.

Yes! The light has arrived! The Sun rises so early that I have time to work in my garden before taking a shower and getting ready for work. Great time to squish marmorated stink bugs or knock them into a bucket of soapy water.

It is time to GET BUSY. And it is time to eat your greens. Vitamins, fiber, minerals; you will need to stay healthy if you want your work to succeed. Take care not to burn out, whether it is sunburn, windburn or bonfire burn!

This is time to work, but not wear yourself out. We still have a lot of the work left to do. Strike while the iron is hot, take breaks when your aim begins to falter. There will still be enough work to do in Summertime.

This is a time to bask, but not be lazy. Enjoy the good days and the warm sunlight. If you cannot appreciate all of it, pick parts that do appeal to you.

What is your natural working pace? Are you fast like dandelions, popping up before the end of winter, or fast like blue jays, strong and clever? Are you slow and cautious, like oak who leafs out last or turkeys who stump so many hunters?

Check your progress as you go. Those late frosts are killer; what unexpected events throw a lot of your work into peril? Do what you can to pace yourself and prepare.

A lot of folks suffer allergies in the Springtime. What are allergies, but attacking the harmless? Pollen is not poisonous; your body mistakes it for an invader, because it is coated in protein like a virus.

Are you attacking harmless things or ideas? Can you take a step back and get a new, less personal perspective?

YES, protect yourself from real threats. Take actions appropriate to threats: wear bug spray if the mosquitoes are out, wear a condom if you do not want a new baby, wear a sunhat, wash your hands well if you are about to eat.

Spring changes fast! Engage your joy, pay attention to this vivid phase of life.

Imbolc 2020

“I do not want to go quietly, I want to slide in sideways, cookies in one hand, whiskey in the other declaring “Whoo, what a ride!” In my notes for this talk, I wrote “cabin fever” three times. I also realized, the Internet kind of erased cabin fever from our culture. I see that as a good thing. 

Imbolc is a Old Gaelic word that may have meant “in the belly” and referred to sheep’s pregnancies, or possibly meant to wash and cleanse one’s self. Most people believe it is the former. Late winter is when ewes prepare to deliver their lambs and their milk supply freshens. Paganism really always leads you back to critters. But this is a celebration of quickening; evidence of new life about to begin.

Imbolc is the halfway point in the Winter season, literally the middle of Winter. Winter began six weeks ago, and Spring begins in six weeks. These halfway points are the truest expression of a season; we are in the thick of winter. It is cold, dreary, windy, not fun to be out of doors.

What do we do this feverish, restless, dreary time of year? We have Carnival, Mardi Gras, Chinese New Year; huge, wild, brightly colored celebrations where you can let out all the crazy. If you keep trying to follow decorum during such a dreary period, you could permanently lose your mental balance. It is better to go crazy for a few days and shake out those winter blues. If you have read any James Herriot, you know that lambing season drives farmers a bit crazy, too.

Imbolc is a High Holy day and its signature deity is Brigid, or “Bride”, the most beloved of the Irish gods. Brigid was a fire god: a blacksmith, a poet, and the home’s hearth. Poetry? Fire, you ask? Yes! A good poems sets your heart and mind ablaze. Poets in Ireland were ranked higher than kings and queens, who were considered somewhat expendable. I am not making any suggestions, here, but Irish kings were sometimes sacrificed if things had gone badly for a few years in a row.

Imbolc is when you can tell that the daylight hours really are growing longer. It is sunset when I leave work now, not full dark. Dawn happens during breakfast, not on my way to work. Even Utqiag`vik, the northernmost point in Alaska, is getting 3 hours of sunlight per day.

The opposite holiday is Lughnasadh, the grain and apple harvest that is halfway thru summer. Lughnasadh is when you see the days are waning, but your larders are filling up. Halfway thru Winter, larders are emptying and we tighten our belts. This may not apply to food in our modern lives, but it can apply to our emotional and mental stores.
In farming communities, carnival is followed by fasting. In modern life, we are trying to keep up with our new year’s resolutions to lose weight or get in shape. Kind of the same idea…if you have hot work to do, cold weather is a good time to do it.

Candles are a symbol of Imbolc, celebrating the returning light. So are Brigid’s Crosses, milk, and early flowers like snowdrops or crocus. I have daffodils coming up, but I think that is climate change, not Imbolc. At Lughnasadh we made corn dollies; at Imbolc we make Brigid Crosses. The dolly sometimes gets burned after it is completed, but the cross is really just an unfinished basket. Where does that take us?

This is the end of the agricultural year. Gardeners smell Spring on the wind, or at least imagine it. We pore over brightly colored seed catalogs and dream at length about this year’s garden. We have forgotten all the work of turning the soil and weeding; we just want to see sprouts and flower buds.

The end of any thing is a good time to review. How did your projects work out this past year? DId you improve over the last time, or fall behind? Did you try a new thing? Was it an improvement? What ideas needs to get thrown out to make space for new ideas, what things could get finished before Spring arrives? What do you need to do to prepare for growth?

We handle all that ancipation with planning and preparation. Planning and preparation, you say? I say FUN! Get out the grid paper and plot your garden! Go thru your seed store and see what you saved from last year. DREAM. Fire up your greenhouse and get some seedlings started. We all have greenhouses, right?

Maybe finish that brigids cross, turn it into a egg basket. Maybe finish that poem you were writing, turn it into inspiration for your next step in life. Many folk are planning bee-feeding gardens, nowadays. This is the time of year that needs inspiration. Feed your busy little dreams. Put your dreams on paper, express all this pent up energy, get your thoughts and feelings out.

My husband uses white boards in every room, to plot menus, work days, healthy habits, notions. He bought two new white boards in the last week, and one of them is so big it will take up almost an entire wall. I love that.

What have you saved up in your heart and mind, and your belly? What does your gut tell you right now? The Hindus have 7 chakras, but the Irish have 3 cauldrons. The Belly, the Heart, and the Head. Each needed to be kept full, none should be neglected. We are halfway thru a season of deprivation. Are any of your cauldrons tipped over right now, or needing a top up?

The Belly:
You MEANT to give up junk food, but did you? Try again, put good food in its place, eat your green leafy vegetables and whole fruits.
Your gut tells you that someone on your friend lists is not a good person? Obey your gut and unfollow them.
What else is your gut telling you? If you are not in the habit of listening to it, start now.

The Heart:
Have you called your loved ones recently? Do it, tell them you love them. Get over their flaws and failings. Get over yours, too.
Do your favorite artists need support? Re-post their artwork, buy their work, comment on their social media.
What makes you feel loved? Seek that again. Start over if you need to.

The Head:
Bolster yourself by talking about or writing down these ideas of yours. Talk them up! Up! Talk yourself into bringing your ideas to life. Remember it is OK to be a little crazy right now. LET THE LIGHT IN. Let go of shade. Strategize, plot, plan, throw it all out and start again.
Do you have a gratitude habit? Is it working for you? Maybe it needs re-vamping.
Read your favorite philosophers again, read your favorite poems. Do you still love them? Do they bring you new insights? Try reading them out loud to your friends. If they are still your friends afterwards, good.

Imbolc reminds us to make use of dull times to prepare for better times. Hash out your ideas and dreams, sort out the dead seeds and half-baked notions, reconnect with what – and who – truly inspires you.

Even Brigid’s cross is just an unfinished basket. If it is not working out, toss it in the fire and try again.

Samhain, Festival of the Ancestors

Samhain is the Gaelic word for “Summer’s End”. It is pronounced “SOW-in” in Irish Gaelic, “SHAW-vin” in Scots Gaelic, and “Pumpkin Spice” in American. 😀 I stole that joke.

Like English uses H to change the sounds of C and S, Gaelic uses the letter H to turn M into the V sound. M and V are more similar than you might have realized. That is a little Gaelic language tip for you; I did not get much further in my study of that language.

Samhain is the ancient holiday halfway between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice, around the first of November. This is when in Ireland, cattle were brought back down from their mountainous summer grazing fields to the valley fields. Newgrange and other paleolithic Irish monuments mark these astronomical events.

Thanks to Irish immigrants, Samhain became the basis for what we Americans call “Halloween”, a contraction for All Hallow’s Eve. Halloween is the evening before All Saints Day. Halloween is also known as All Souls Night, when we remember our own, ordinary, not-sainted folk. Simply, it is a festival to honor those who have gone before.

Ancestor worship pre-dates the worship of deities. From what I can understand, as Stone Age people, we humans did not fear death or miss our dead relatives the way we do now. Instead, we stayed in touch with their spirits and memories.

Usually, ancestor worship itself was conducted by the oldest living relatives in the family. Those who were closer to crossing over to become ancestors themselves, and who had known the older generations were deemed best for communicating with those spirits. It became their sole occupation. Priesthood must have been a really nice retirement plan!

Modern Pagans often hold unrelated loved ones, such as teachers or even celebrities, as emotional ancestors. Those who inspire us to become better people have also fed our growth as spiritual beings. They “parent” us this way.

Who are your unrelated ancestors? Among mine are the authors Anne McCaffrey and Jane Austen, singer Karen Carpenter and my high school choir teacher, Cheryl Patchen. McCaffrey taught me keep writing and singing in spite of neglect or abuse, and that adopted family can be the best family. Austen taught me to follow my better nature rather than give in to impulse. Carpenter warned me to keep fighting mental illness. Patchen believed in me.

Did you have neighbors growing up who helped raise you? Have you thought about the word “raise”? Good people lift each other up, and as my friend Carolsue says, we live in a world with good people.

Wiccans honor our dead at Samhain. We believe at this time of year, it is easier to converse with our ancestors. The “veil” between our world and theirs is thin at this time, and also at Beltaine, the opposite holiday from Samhain.

One way to remember them is to offer their names to the Samhain bonfire. You can speak their names to the fire, or write them on paper to burn. I usually do both, reading the name aloud and then burning the paper.

Samhain is also the third or fourth harvest festival of the year; it is the Blood Harvest. I am going to let those words hang for a moment… This is the hunting season for well-fed wildlife, or time to harvest your fattened livestock. Their bones went into the Samhain bonfire, bone + fire. This is the time of frost, when (before climate change) the weather would reliably get colder. Meat stayed good longer in a cold larder, or it was cured with salt or smoke. Then it should keep your family fed thru harsh winter months. They did not have things like Spam.

And of course, it is the time of pumpkins, winter squash, potatoes, young wine from Lughnasadh’s pressing, the last of those flavorful peppers, apples and plums. There is still time to plant winter greens to keep your family more healthy during winter.

Another way to honor the dead is the Dumb Supper. “Dumb” means “not speaking”. As you enjoy your marvelous harvests in a Samhain feast, set one plate full of your dinner with a burning candle to draw those spirits who love you. Some Wiccans eat this meal in silence (dumb), to listen for their visitors’ words from the other side.

Many Wiccans include a pomegranate in their Samhain feast to honor the marriage of Persephone and Hades. Do not believe those silly English scholars who mistranslated the old Greek myths: Persephone was NOT kidnapped. Plucking a crocus was essentially knocking on Hades’ door. She was NOT tricked into marrying; offering an unmarried woman a pomegranate was the same today as kneeling and offering her a ring. Her mother’s opinion of the match was another story.

A much-loved Samhain activity is to spend time looking thru family photo albums. Perhaps dust the picture frames if you keep family portraits. Tell stories of your elders’ (hopefully funny ones as well as any other), talk about your family’s history and traditions. We are settling into the darkest time of the year, which is a great time to rest and tell stories.

Samhain is our New Year festival, as well. We chase out and confuse bad spirits by wearing masks and set skulls and bones outside our doors to warn them away. The Irish extinguish their hearth fires, then meet at the village bonfire and take home its coals to restart their hearth for the new year. The old has passed, the new are coming back soon: at the Sun’s rebirth occurs at Yule.

Since it is a new year, you might scry or read your tarot cards to gain insight for the coming year. You might converse with your ancestors by visiting your relatives’ graveyards, or simply stand outside on your porch to await their coming to see you, just as you would wait for the living who have texted to say they are are on their way.

If you choose to scry, keep in mind that all news is not good. Be prepared to receive messages of any sort. Christians interpret hearing bad news as the “Devil’s words” and view our holiday with anxiety. Bless their hearts. Wiccan faith says to accept the whole cycle of life as it comes. When you receive messages, do your best to handle the news.

And this is one reason that Wiccans set circles of protection when we scry. We need to filter out those spirits who might mean harm, or who are just full of mischief. Think of all the people you know in life. They do not change their nature when they die.

Samhain New Year is an excellent time to purge your home of unwanted or unused items, or items with some painful connection. It might be a valuable item, but if it only brings you sorrow, purge it. Purge yourself of sorrows too, using that burning ritual I mentioned earlier. Write your sorrow on paper and add it to the Samhain fire. That catharsis is magnificent.

Walking a labyrinth is another Samhain tradition. The labyrinth reminds us that life is full of twists, turns, doubling back, rushing forward, and then doing it all over again with fresh perspective.

Think of all the feelings you get when you work thru any problem! They can all be there in the labyrinth. Interest in a new thing, satisfaction in that first turning back to see where you were before. Frustration of going back and forth when you thought you were done. Confusion when you are not sure if you are following the right color on the floor. Joy of sailing forward thru a long loop, and then anxiety as you see yet another turn ahead. Relief when you reach the center. Exhaustion when you realize you are about to go thru all of that again – or maybe you love seeing it all go by again and laugh at the places you were stuck or frustrated before.

You might outline a labyrinth in your own yard, using cornmeal or flour, bricks, masking tape or ribbon. To use a bag of cornmeal or flour for this, cut a pouring spout from the top fold and use the flour to trace the design. Non-toxic, needs no clean up. The Cretan labyrinth + is a simple and most ancient design. Or, quite simply, or you can mark out a spiral using a garden hose.

Samhain is a time of immense power and change. In this season, it behooves us to connect with our past and weigh our needs and desires. Take time to appreciate where you came from, the good and the bad together. Take time to evaluate where you are and appreciate your own wealth.

Litha 2019

Litha 23 June 2019 UUFM
Litha, an Anglo-Saxon word for the month of June. It was also used by JRR Tolkien and thereby gained favor in the Wiccan community. Pagans adopted the term for the Summer Solstice holiday.
At this Solstice, the Earth’s axis tilts the north pole as close as it will come to the Sun’s position. This creates the longest day of the year, and the shortest night for people in the northern half of our world. This is the beginning of Summer.
Astronomical observatories around the world, including Old Stone Fort Archeological Park in Manchester, TN and the world famous Stonehenge in southern England, observe this event. The Sun rises at the farthest point north on the horizon. The following day, it begins to rise further south on the horizon each day. Poetically, returning to its “home” in the Southern quadrant of “fire”.
Astrologically, this holiday begins the sign of Cancer, the crab, the lobster, the pinching hard-shelled, sweet-inside creatures. I used M&M’s to demonstrate cancerian energies in an Astrology class I taught.
The Astrological cycle is the solar, agricultural calendar. It is about 5,000 years old, developed by Babylonians. Babylonians, you see, did not have a Walgreens from which to buy your annual wall calendar. Farming communities needed a device, a mnemonic, to keep people attuned to the intense work of farming. Farming is not a natural way; agriculture coerces the world into giving you what you need, often with excess. Humans grew up as hunter-gatherers, getting what they need from the natural world. Agriculture is artificial, so you need devices like calendars and holidays to keep people engaged.
Cancer is the sign of mothering: nurture, protect, care and feeding. This is the time of year to nurture growing crops. Tend to them, water them, fuss over them as the heat grow intense.
This is the best time of year to harvest and dry medicinal herbs. The leaves are full grown and still contain theri effective compounds and essential oils. Those get used up dealing with heat, and also with developing seeds. Cut, bundle and hang them to dry out of direct sun and rain. Usually they are dry enough to store after 3 days.
Water your animals, too. They also need care in summer’s heat. In fact, this is a good time of year to nurture your own self. Relax, enjoy nature in its fullest growth. Rest, take vacation (perhaps to the beach!) Watch butterflies, lightning bugs, dragonflies and birds.
If you cannot stand hot weather, try eating spicy food every day. It can help you build your heat tolerance. Thai, Indian, Mexican cuisines are meant to help people deal with hot weather.
To best grasp the essence of this holiday, I want you to imagine sunlight sparkling on water. *~*~*~*
Wiccans know that at this holiday, the Oak King is defeated by the Holly King, in their eternal struggle for dominance. Oak rules as daylight grows, and sees to the budding of springtime. Holly, who rules when daylight wanes, will lose again at Yule, the Winter Solstice.
This is the time of year to honor your wells, your water source. Humans are fascinated by sparkling things – glitter, jewelry, suncatchers – because in the wild we have a real need to find and recognize water sources.
This is a time of year to honor the fae, your land spirits. They are heady with joy at this height of wilderness growth.
This is the time of year to honor the Sun, by whatever name you call it. Lugh, Apollo, Ukko, Ra, Nyame, Surya, Amaterasu, Enulanuhi, Xi He, just a few names. Also keep in mind that most pantheons have more than one deity associated with the Sun: the orb itself, its controller, its admirer, its primary magician or astronomer, its positions thru out the day.
How does one honor a well, a water source? Traditionally with flowers, branches that demonstrate growth, ribbons or rags (perhaps washing rags?), pins and jewelry. Create a water source for wildlife, if you can: a birdbath, rain garden, or small pond.
I wonder, tho, if the jewelry was a gift begging the well to produce during drought. Wells are treasure troves for archaeologists, and I think the archeologists are correct in this case, when they surmise an act to be religious.
How does one honor the fae? First, show respect. They are ancient and have long memories. If you wish to visit them, visit during the “between” times of day: dawn, sunset, midnight. Take good care of your gardens, trees, and property; the best care you can give. The fae know if you are doing your best. Do not cause unnecessary harm to insects or small animals. Plant things that attract those bees, butterflies and birds I suggested you watch, earlier. Bless your own land with offerings of cream, honey, shiny or bright-colored beads or candies. I am told they love jelly beans.
How does one honor the Sun? Watch the sunrise, use suncatchers, dance in spirals, spin, set out pinwheels, dress in yellow and orange. At Yule, we keep watch during the long night to see the Sun rise again. At Litha, spend the day outside if we can, and watch the sun set as well. Eat round, yellow cookies like vanilla cremes or lemon cookies, drink herb tea, set out a bowl of water to reflect the sunlight.
How do Americans celebrate? Did you know that Americans celebrate this holiday? We are a Cancerian nation, our national birthdate is the 4th of July. Our culture values motherhood, protectiveness, home life. We like to celebrate this time of year with cookouts, reunions, music, bright colored clothes, fireworks, swimming.
Other cultures celebrate, too. Many build bonfires, but to me it seems that nearly every festival involves a bonfire. One tradition is for young people to jump over the fire to capture the prosperity of this time of year. (Mostly, only the young people will do this.) Catholics honor St John the Baptist – again, water and light.
Litha is a time of prosperity and abundance. I recommend you bundle up your good things, and enjoy them.

Chakra Gearhead

Playing with my niece’s toys, one of which has a series of brightly colored gears with knobs on top. Each gear spins opposite the ones on either side of it, and turning any of them turned them all. I spun them with glee, listening to the plastic rattle. My niece was not very impressed.

I use the modern adaptation of chakras in meditation. THe chakras are located the same places within the body, but the symbols are simpler and their colors are from the light spectrum. The chakras are supposed to spin. There was a “right way” for them to spin but I couldn’t remember which way was correct.

My next meditation, unbidden, my chakras each spun opposite the ones on either side. Red, yellow, blue and white spun one way, and orange, green and purple spun the other. I still don’t remember which way they spun, but their interconnected movement delighted me. Seeing them named like this, I realize they’re roughly split into primary and secondary colors.

Chakras are imaginary – formed of imaginarium? ether? pretendia? or perhaps they exist as energy, part of the nervous system. The latter is what I’ve been taught and what I usually believe. So far, the system has been helpful for focusing on health and healing, dividing functions and assigning them to one of the chakra. I like the system but have no scientific proof they exist.

This gives me the freedom to change the system if I need. The chakras have helped people all over Earth and does not prejudice a practitioner against deities or ethnicity. Yet I am sure if I explained to a traditional practitioner, they would insist I was incorrect.

People war over these kinds of ideas. Imaginary concepts, used personally by individuals, standardized and defended by religions. It might be the way that works for you, but with just a little incendiary speech from leaders, people who imagine things differently will murder you over the difference.

I personally enjoy the varieties of beliefs and imagination. Please carry on and allow me to do the same.

Advantage of Being a Religious Wacko

When you believe weird things, you don’t have room to criticize. I could stop there. That’s the point I wanted to make. We’re done. Thanks for stopping by.

News stories arrive in which politicians admit they believe women are less valid creatures than men and don’t deserve things like paychecks or job promotions. That Jesus traveled around the world making sure every tribe got His message so that no one gets out of choosing between Heaven and Hell. That Jesus’ magic blood-drinking ritual saved them from cancer. Or that God is playing hide and seek from behind a comet.

I was raised to think all of these (except the last one) were valid religious beliefs. (I don’t have examples of other religions’ wacko beliefs, but feel free to leave comments if you know some good ones.) I still think they are valid, the same way I believe Narcissus was a beautiful young man who fell in love with his reflection in a pond and was turned into a flower. The same way I believe that Sedna’s fingers became whales and seals. The same way I have conversations with trees and babies and people’s pets and see the future in how a handful of stones fall.

I really stretch the patience of my secular humanist friends. Bless them, they love me even as I make them palm their faces in confused exasperation. Bless them a little extra, because they don’t usually believe in things like blessings.

Write down things you believe in and take a look at them again. Try to explain them to someone. (Trees are good listeners.) Do you believe that your feelings affect the outcome of your most beloved sports team’s scores? That closing your eyes makes prayer work better? That your hairstyle makes you look better? Do you believe that eating fast food every day won’t actually, literally, genuinely hurt anyone?

Yeah, those aren’t very religious examples. Hopefully they’re less aggravating or personal that way. I don’t want to anger anybody. I say claim your wacko beliefs. Everyone has their own.

Maybe we should have International Wacko Day where everyone posts their strangest deeply held belief on the Internet, so we can find fellow wackos and enjoy their company. We can all drink the traditional melted ice cream and strike things that irk us with inflatable toys, as has been done on Wacko Day for centuries. Or for the first time. It’ll be great.